Navigating Through My Estrangement
By Bernadette A. Moyer
It used to be considered a “silent epidemic” when estrangement took place in the family. For the most part parents were just so hurt and humiliated that they often hid it or made excuses as to where their adult children ended up.
Today more and more parents have bonded together as a result of their adult children estranging from the family. Parents no longer feel the need to hide it and are actively seeking healing and coping skills and trying to come to peace and understanding.
Through the years I have written several articles about estrangement, the most popular ones are titled P.E.A.C. E. Parents of Estranged Adult Children Everywhere, Dear Parents of Estranged Adult Children and most recently Dear Estranged Adult Children. All can be found on my website at www.bernadetteamoyer.com and you may keep up with me on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/bernadetteamoyer.
This article is about sharing the many stages that go with an estrangement from an adult child. There are numerous stages and many resemble the same stages that we experience with death and the grieving process. The greatest challenge for many parents is that unlike a death, the adult child has made the choice to estrange themselves.
Let me share my experiences the last 17 years and also what I have learned and witnessed from the hundreds and hundreds of others that have communicated with me.
Stage 1 – The Battle Begins – Shock
The estrangement begins and sometimes it is a declaration of “I hate you” and “I want nothing to do with you.” And statements like “Don’t ever contact me again.” Other times it is the silent treatment with no communication at all. Messages are left, letters are written and calls are made and they all go unanswered.
At this time most parents are shocked. They can’t believe that little “Johnny” could react this way toward them. The parents begin to question themselves, their children and all the years they shared together. The overriding question “How did this happen, how did we end up here?”
Most mothers will express their grief through tears. They are so hurt. There is no deeper cut for any mother than to have the child that you loved and raised decide to reject you. All she wants is her “baby” back. Mothers and fathers begin to look at one another almost a silent look of “What did YOU do?” Although they are looking to place blame is not communicated as such and at least not initially.
Fathers often react differently. They feel the loss but almost immediately decide to go into “survival” mode. They will look at it from every angle and decide that, “If that is the way it is, it may well be a blessing.” My own husband immediately wanted to close ranks. He accepted it for what it was and made my health and well-being his priority. I don’t know that I could have ever survived without him and his love. It also caused him to look more closely at his own children and their actions. Things he may have chosen not to see in the past he acknowledged that he could no longer deny.
Stage 2 – Uncovering Some Ugly Truths
Few parents want to believe that their children are “liars” or “sneaky” or “sloppy” or have manipulated them. Few parents are willing to see their children through less than loving eyes until they are absolutely faced with the harsh truths.
Mothers just want the kids back; they want their family restored at all costs. Men see the danger in opening the door back up to what has already been disclosed to them.
Stage 3 – Denial This Can’t Be Happening … Not to me!
My grief was intense when my child left home in 1998. I couldn’t imagine living my life without her. I had already suffered the loss of my first husband who died and family that I was estranged from as a result of sexual abuse. I couldn’t imagine losing my daughter too. But I did. I ended up in therapy twice a week and for the first time ever I began taking antidepressant medication. She had been my reason for living and without her I felt I had no true purpose in life. Wrong, wrong and wrong but that was how I thought.
Each anniversary and each holiday and all birthdays were storms of tears and anger. How could she? How could I have meant so little to her when she meant so much to me?
Stage 4 – A Different Kind of Life
Everything changed. I changed. We moved our holidays to travel destinations and started making new traditions. Slowly but surely I began the letting go process. Her things were given to her and anything that crept up years later was given away or donated. Pictures of her began to be removed from public displays and all her photos, cards, letters and any pertinent papers were filed. She was being removed from my life bit by bit.
I would be fine years 4 and 5 and then have a complete breakdown in year 6. In the beginning I lost a lot of weight and I felt so deflated. I beat myself up pretty badly. I still had hope, I still thought she would grow up and find her heart.
Stage 5 – Coming to Acceptance
It is over! It really is over! After 10 years in I stopped crying and I came to acceptance. This was my new normal, I was living my life without her and she was living her life without me. My husband and twins filled my life along with a career that I loved. We had many friends and beach vacations. We had peace. Life was good again.
Stage 6 – Here We Go Again!
She was in legal trouble and would strike out at me again. We had already been estranged for 13 years. I couldn’t believe she could still carry such deep seated hatred in her heart. How can you hate someone, anyone so much when you haven’t even seen them or talked to them in well over a decade? This would also be my biggest eye opener. It was also when my heart changed for good. Now I was done. The things that she did and the things that she said were such outrageous lies but what was most telling was the degree that she could and would go to and still want to hurt me. It changed everything for me. I could finally wholeheartedly let her go. We were strangers. The daughter that I knew and the daughter that I loved and adored was long gone. I always saw her through rose-colored glasses but not anymore.
Stage 7 – I Am Whole Again!
There is no scenario on the face of this earth where I would ever welcome her back into my heart and into my life. I gave her back to God. When I could finally do this I was free. My life was mine again. I was back to enjoying everything. It was like the dark clouds lifted and peace came over me. My mother had died and my family would show themselves yet again. I could finally conclude that I was better off without them. That I had a really nice life and it wasn’t going to include them. I am softer more loving and more open but I am also so much wiser. I trusted when I should have questioned. I walked away when I should have confronted.
Today I share what I learned and I do my best to try and comfort others who are going through estrangement. I share my story I share my path so others will know that 1) you aren’t alone and 2) you can and you will survive too!
Bernadette on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bernadetteamoyer
You can share your story with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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